There are plenty of improvements to be made in California public schools, according to middle- and high-school students in the state. A study released last month by San Francisco-based nonprofit organization YouthTruth found that only 52 percent of secondary students feel their school has helped them understand how to navigate the college application process. Findings from the study identified other areas that need attention in schools across the state as well.

The study, which analyzed survey responses from over 63,000 California students in fifth through twelfth grades, was conducted in partnership with school districts throughout the state. The data was gathered between November 2010 and February 2018, and explored students’ perspectives on college readiness efforts, school culture, and student engagement strategies, among other things.

Results from the study

Despite just barely half of survey respondents feeling their school has helped them understand how to apply to college, a full 84 percent want to attend college. Seventy percent expect to go to a 2- or 4-year college after graduation, reflecting the fact that some students who want to attend college don’t expect to be able to do so.

When it comes to student engagement, 59 percent of students feel engaged at school, while only 52 percent of students enjoy going to school most of the time. And 44 percent of middle-school students rate their school culture positively, compared to just 37 percent of high-school students. Given that research shows positive school climates contribute to improved academic achievement and student engagement, this “stands out as the area where there is quite a lot of room for attention,” says Jen Wilka, executive director of YouthTruth.

The survey also asked students whether they feel that what they learn in class helps them outside of school. Forty-nine percent of middle-school students responded positively to this question, compared to 42 percent of high-school students. Similarly, just 49 percent of middle-school students and 42 percent of high-school students feel that discipline at their school is fair.

Implementing change

Detailed feedback from students provides crucial insights as to what’s working and what’s not working from a student perspective. Education funders and school, district, and state leaders must hear student voices to gain a clear understanding of what areas still need change and improvement in schools.

As Dr. Penelope DeLeon, superintendent of Oxnard Union High School District, puts it, “Engaging students as part of the change process is so important. They are stakeholders in their own education. […] They know that we’re not just asking for feedback—we’re genuinely using it to make improvements.”







Image credit: “Learning” by CollegeDegreesUSA via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).